The Summum Bonum
The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In Christian philosophy there is a something known as the summum bonum or the supreme good. The summum bonum is believed to be not just the best thing one could ever have but also that good which contains in itself or brings along with it all other good and desirable things, that which completely satisfies the otherwise insatiable desires of the human heart. The summun bonum sounds like an abstract idea but it can be illustrated with a childhood experience in a typical African village.
It is not uncommon that a child be asked to round up a mother hen with a brood of, say, seven chickens. The child, invariably, would start with the small chickens. But as the chickens run and duck the child would fall over so many times before catching even one chicken. Worse still the mother hen, to defend her little ones, would come after the child with her beak and claws. After so many falls with little result to show for it, the child gives up the futile pursuit and it is then that the child’s mother comes to the rescue.
First she would get a large basket, lure the mother hen into the basket and cover her up. The mother hen safely covered in the basket would then chuck for the chickens and they would all gather around the basket. Raise the basket a little and the chickens all rush into it to be with their mother hen. In a couple of minutes you’ve got the mother hen with her brood of seven chickens. In this example the baby chickens can be compared to the many good things of life and the mother hen to the summum bonum, the supreme good which brings in its train all other goods.
Today’s readings invite us to ask ourselves this important question: Among all the things I desire in life, which are the chickens and which one is the mother hen? What is the one desire of my life that once found will bring all my other legitimate desires in its train? The gospel calls this ultimate desire of the human heart “the kingdom of God.” “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
The kingdom of God is God’s reign in our hearts, in our lives, in our homes, in our society, and in our world. The one who finds the kingdom of God finds everything desirable besides. That is why it is compared to hidden treasure in a field which someone discovers, then goes and sells all that oeverything he has and buy this one pearl. In fact, these parables invite us not only to seek first the kingdom of God but to seek only the kingdom because with the kingdom of God comes every other good thing that we desire and long for.
Solomon in the first reading is a good illustration of a man who went for the mother hen rather than the chickens. As a young king Solomon had many legitimate needs. He needed wealth, military might, fame, security, prosperity, long life and happiness. But when God asked him to ask for one thing, he asked for the summum bonnum, wisdom from above. He knew that with wisdom comes every other good thing he needed and desired. And God confirmed his choice in these words:
Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. (1 Kings 3:11-13)
If God came in your dream tonight and asked you to ask for one thing and one thing only, what would you ask for? Would you ask for wealth or success in business or love life? Would you have the wisdom of Solomon to ask for the reign of God in your personal and business life? Is the kingdom of God so important to you that you are prepared to sell and part with all you have in order to have it? Remember, the kingdom of God is not just one among so many other good and desirable things. It is the summum bonum, the supreme good, the one and only good thing we shall ever need to achieve total satisfaction and fulfilment in life. If you have the kingdom of God you have everything and if you don’t have the kingdom of God you have nothing.
Fr. Munachi E. Ezeogu, C.S.Sp.